Each week a different expert ranks three OTTBs in terms of their suitability for a specific discipline. This week features So-Cal jockey turned dressage trainer Wayne Robison.
This Week’s Evaluator: Wayne Robison grew up on a working ranch in South Dakota before leaving for California in high school to work for trainer Monty Roberts at his Flag Is Up Farm. There he gained entry into the Thoroughbred racing world starting yearlings (millionaire grade 1 winner Unusual Suspect a notable example), rehabbing horses and gaining experience in all aspects of training Thoroughbreds.
From there, he enjoyed winning races as a licensed trainer, an owner and even as a professional jockey. Since retiring from the racing world, Wayne’s experience spans the equine industry having trained western, hunter/jumper, and dressage horses as well as teaching colt starting clinics. Wayne has also performed as a stunt rider on many television productions, most recently as the double for actor Tom Payne on HBO’s “Luck.”
Currently, Wayne Robison trains out of Norco, Calif., at his WR Performance Horses facility where he offers lessons, clinics and purchasing consultation for horse owners of all disciplines and breeds. Wayne reminds us that true horsemanship is a journey and that we must enjoy every step.
Favorite Thoroughbreds: Vienna Circle, Dapper Gene and of course California Chrome!
Chosen Discipline: An all-around horse for the average rider.
Horse #1: Speed Rouser
Foaled on May 17, 2002 in California
16-hand chestnut Thoroughbred gelding
Flying Continental x Better Reasons by Cutlass Reality
73 starts: 8 wins, 8 seconds and 15 thirds for earnings of $212,367
Horse #2: Solid Example
Foaled on February 19, 2010 in Kentucky
16.2-hand chestnut Thoroughbred mare
Consolidator x Ultreya by Gone West
8 starts: 0 wins, 0 seconds and 2 thirds for earnings of $3,205
Horse #3: Kingzapper
Foaled on April 23, 2009 in Kentucky
16-hand bay Thoroughbred gelding
Ghostzapper x Jewel for a King by Storm Cat
2 starts: 0 wins, 0 seconds and 0 thirds for earnings of $600
What I Look For: I come from a diverse background; I have used horses in everyday ranch work, I have shown driving and dressage horses, and I have won races as a jockey. Along the way, I have used horses for just about every purpose there is. But I always remember the horse’s primary purpose: Transport, whether around the racetrack or down the trail, a horse should get you where you are going efficiently. After riding many different breeds, I still find the Thoroughbred to be the most versatile means of transportation. Whether sorting steers or clearing fences, I prefer a Thoroughbred.
When selecting an OTTB to retrain as a saddle horse, I focus on three points.
1. Conformation. I am willing to forgive an offset knee or a turned out ankle in an OTTB, because if it stood up to racing at 40 miles per hour, it can probably pack me around. I want a handy horse that is supple and smooth to ride. With this in mind, look for a clean neck, low head set, sloping shoulder and short back.
2. Temperament. The horse dancing around the barn like a ballerina on Adderall may look cute, but ballerinas tend to be high maintenance. I like the horse that seems to be the old salt, not ruffled by the antics of his more excitable barn mates. If you are at the track, seek out the horse’s exercise rider. They can give valuable insight because they deal with these athletes on a regular basis. If you find a horse that causes jealousy amongst the gallop girls, you’ve struck gold.
3. History. OTTBs come with a resume. Enter their registered name on DRF.com or Equibase and pull up their past performances. If you don’t know what you are looking at, have an experienced racetracker look it over. A practiced eye can read between the lines and pick up details about your OTTB’s behavior and soundness: “Bolted” or “jumped the rail” is a negative running line and best to be avoided… unless you are a three-day eventer!
How I placed them: 3-1-2
Third Place: Horse #2, Solid Example
If I was looking for a hunter, I would have placed this pretty filly higher. Her temperament and age suggest that she might do better with a focused, show oriented program. She has a gorgeous head, a nice level topline, and plenty of chrome. Her history of not showing speed means she is slow. While that may not good for a racehorse, it is great for a riding horse. With a little time she will make a great all around saddle horse and likely an even better hunter over fences.
Second Place: Horse #1, Speed Rouser
I’ll be honest, I have a soft spot for the hard-knockin’ old geldings. This chestnut grabbed his lunch pail and went to work 73 times. If he raced the distance of Santa Anita to Hollywood Park, with a stop off at Fairplex, I’m sure he can carry me around just fine. He has handled countless van rides, post parades and roaring crowds, he ought to have no problem adjusting to life in my string.
First Place: Horse #3, Kingzapper
Kingzapper is chill as an ice cube in the Antarctic. With his work clothes on, he doesn’t show the shine and flash of the other two but he has the best conformation. That is something I would expect from his nice breeding, a son Ghostzapper and out of a Storm Cat mare. Pour the groceries to him, take care of his feet and you will have a stunner. His breeder, celebrity chef Bobby Flay, intended this horse to be a top handicap horse right about now. It is your good fortune that this handsome gelding prefers a low profile.
If you think an off-track Thoroughbred might be right for you, no matter what the discipline, find out more information on what to look for, how to purchase and get re-training tips at retiredracehorseproject.org
CANTER stands for The Communication Alliance to Network Thoroughbred Ex-Racehorses. CANTER started as a solution to help racehorses find new careers by connecting buyers and sellers through posting racehorses for sale on the internet. The program quickly became a national web-based phenomenon. Since the first CANTER Michigan program started in 1997, it and has grown to include chapters in California, Illinois, the Mid Atlantic Region, the New England Region, Ohio, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. All the CANTER programs are all-volunteer organizations with 501 ( c ) ( 3 ) non profit status.